Iconic Ads: Chipotle – Back To The Start

Chipotle wanted to promote enhancements in food production through a commercial and decided to do away with the standard graphical images.

Consumers thought that all fast-food chains had the same issues – low-quality products and ingredients that were grown in poor conditions with bad practices

Educating clients on an alternative thought process genuinely and engagingly that didn’t sound phoney to today’s audiences was a problem.

Chipotle wanted to tackle the problem of industrial farming. Numerous family farmers had converted their farms into factory farms and later regretted it.

Creative Artists Agency (CAA) were tasked to find fresh ways to tell Chipotle’s narrative of Food With Integrity. (The philosophy of Food With Integrity was based on Chipotle founder Steve Ells’s understanding of the way food was produced in the US. Chipotle only used ingredients/ products which were ethically and naturally produced). CAA had misconceptions about Chipotle and they were also ignorant of the Food With Integrity philosophy. 

However, CAA was convinced after a meeting with the Chiptole team.

Back to the Start, a short film produced by CAA was among the many concepts which were presented. Apparently, this was inspired by a farmer who caught an antibiotic-resistant infection from one of his pigs. The short film was chosen as the platform’s opening salvo to start the ‘Cultivate A Better World’ platform. (Cultivating a better world is by providing real food that is responsibly sourced, classically prepared, and made with healthful ingredients rather than with added colours, tastes, or other additives)

The animation project then came to Nexus Studios in London in May of 2010, and Johnny Kelly was given the responsibility of helming this commercial.

In contrast to the regular 30- and 60-second commercials, this one was longer. The film was conceived for a client who, to their credit, had never promoted anything before.

First, it was the ‘Good’ farm next to the ‘evil’ farm. Chris O’Reilly (Nexus Studios chief) then came up with the brilliant idea of reducing the story: a single farmer who goes to the dark side (of industrial farming).

Finally, the story was – when his humane family farm gets turned into a terrible factory farm, the farmer sees his mistake and returns to more sustainable agricultural methods.

It was rabble-rousing, in a sense, since it ridiculed the agricultural industry. When it came to standing up for what they believed in, Chipotle was brave enough to take such a bold stand.

Country music legend Willie Nelson sang a cover of Coldplay’s classic ‘The Scientist’ for the soundtrack. 

It was first released on YouTube, to see the organic response. There were no media monies initially. In the next stage, there was paid online advertising to back it. Then the film ran for eight weeks in over 10,000 theatres around the country. Finally, “Back to the Start” was broadcast in its full to an estimated 40 million viewers during the 54th Annual Grammy Awards. A Chipotle ad aired on national television for the first time since the burrito chain’s 1993 launch was also the longest advertisement to run during that year’s Grammy Awards.

End credits show a title card noting that the Willie Nelson cover song was also available for purchase on iTunes, with proceeds going to the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation which funded sustainable agriculture, family farming etc. The goal of the foundation was to ensure that the food people consumed was safe, nutritious, and accessible to all.


The video sparked a global discourse about food and more than 300 million media impressions of which 4.5 million views were organic and before the paid campaign. Willie Nelson’s song became the #1 Country Song on iTunes after the film was aired during the Grammy Awards.

However, the true power of film was when McDonald’s decided to stop all activities associated with pigs being raised in confinement, the very next day after the film was aired at the Grammy.

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